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Updated 10:00 AM November 2, 2009

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Four U-M researchers receive prestigious NIH commendations

Four researchers have been awarded National Institutes of Health grants totaling $4.7 million for research in chemistry, medicine and engineering. More than $67.4 million in the form of 56 grants were given to researchers across the country.

The awards were given through the Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration (EUREKA) program, whose goal is to allow scientists to test new, unconventional ideas and tackle methodological and technical challenges in their areas of research.

The research supported by the program is meant to provide new concepts, tools and approaches that are expected to have a profound impact on the understanding of biology — from fundamental life processes to human diseases and behavior.

"The EUREKA grants awarded to these four U-M faculty are an indicator of the ingenuity and originality of the research conducted on campus," says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. "And the fact that three different schools and colleges are represented shows the breadth of the expertise at Michigan. I'm proud that these faculty members have been recognized through the EUREKA program."

Faculty members who received awards are:

• Dr. Joseph Holoshitz, professor of internal medicine and associate chief for research in the Division of Rheumatology at the Medical School. He is receiving $1.2 million for a project that investigates how interaction of immune system molecules with cells in the inner surface of blood vessels can cause premature atherosclerosis. The project examines a novel hypothesis that if confirmed could introduce a paradigm shift in our understanding of the role of the immune system in many diseases.

• Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta, professor of psychiatry and radiology at the Medical School and a member of the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute. Zubieta was awarded $1.2 million for a project that examines neurobiological mechanisms involved in the development of placebo effects in patients with depression and nicotine dependence. These studies are expected to clarify the predictability of placebo effects and define the neural systems mediating them.

• Matthew Soellner, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the College of Pharmacy. He received $1.2 million for a project to develop molecules to inhibit the activity of enzymes involved in cancer progression. The hope is that the molecules prove valuable in treating drug-resistant enzymes, and that they will show better selectivity for the target enzyme, minimizing treatment side-effects and toxicity in cancer patients. The research group identified a promising lead compound that inhibits an enzyme involved in colon cancer.

• H.V. Jagadish, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Jagadish was awarded $1 million for a project that will promote the use of biological knowledge, gleaned from the literature and databases to analyze observations from biological experiments. The expectation is that by this means, more accurate analysis will be possible, helping to advance fundamental understanding of many complex diseases, such as diabetes mellitus.

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